Andrew Hudson-Smith: Mapping how people act on and off-line

Life in the metaverse – 30 days in ActiveWorlds.

Shows us a demo of ActiveWorlds with lots of caveats about the clunkiness of the interface and the cheesiness of the music. He walks around the world and meets people.

The default avatar for people who haven’t paid sucks and people who have paid aren’t very nice to people who haven’t paid.

Everything is self-built so stuff at the centre comes from 1995 and then as you go out bits of land got claimed over time. Now 4.4 times the size of California. In 1999 it was really neat – shall we do a research paper or shall we just go into the virtual world?

People see it as a place where you can say what you want and do what you want. Actually not true they also watch for key phrases and may throw you out (sometimes after a warning) So there are rules. What would happen if we opened up a world without any laws – so he got a licence. A world about the size of Soho, a blank green space. Put in walls and doors and trees and said there’s no laws. His intention was to then watch over what happened.

Day 0 a massive poster 50′ high with pornographic shot hyperlinked to his mother. So he cleared it and put up some welcome signs and then just hoped that people would just be nice.

Day 1 6430 objects placed in the world, the world has structure and users, all text and building is logged. Fascinating to float above and watch people running around and making stuff while chatting and linking with each other. People interested in why it was there.

Wanted a more human face, so put his webcam on and put himself at 0,0. People stayed in there all day, everyone found it fun to claim land and put up their houses with sofas and log fires. About 40 people all seemingly with faith that it was going to stay and people were nice to each other and got on fine.

Day 4 Attack by the ActiveWorlds Terrorist Group – the leader AKA Jero placed 85,000 objects over 5 hours. Server closed. Cleared out his work. Email threats received to close down the world completely. Re-opened the world and logged in – everyone was waiting and cross because they thought that he’d done it deliberately. It does take time to create a new house.

World placed on DefConOne status. Attack reports reach Press Association News site, so contacted ActiveWorlds and traced his IP, contacted his ISP who told them who he was and the 15-year old boy had his computer taken away by his father. He logged in and said “for god’s sake, you told my dad. He’s not pleased” “You’ve upset the wrong person” within half an hour he’d lost all access to his machine as Jero had hacked in through the PWS.

So cleared out, re-opened world. And it just ran – people coming in and chatting. He became completely immeresed in the world. Gave him and others a sense of purpose. Lots of people with health problems or unemployed – it gave them a friendly face. Interesting how quickly people confided personal stuff. He’s god – but he hadn’t thought it all through.

Lady in Holland starts sending pictures of herself in “compromising purpose” Aaah no. Then she was talking about getting on a ferry and coming over for “a chat” Wanted to make a distinction between virtual life and “real” life. She went a bit quiet but it was fine.

A guy built a plinth with webcam on all sides and avatars all around with their hands up and watching him. He then asked Andrew to come to his lounge (a very big one) and ever wall was plastered with pictures of AHS. “So you’re not keen on my lounge then…” Realised he hadn’t thought about the implications – all of his personal details are online. Turned webcam off at this stage. Next day there’d been a call to the office asking for the webcam to be put back on. Went into the world and talked about it, but people couldn’t see his point of view. The line had been crossed.

Christmas came and they typed/sang xmas carols around the tree. The woman from Amsterdam bought him a Porsche.

People build amazing things – why? They built things that in the real world they wanted. A road network, satellite writing, a little town emerged. Lovers Lane for pictures of themselves and partners. Put in a planning application to demolish Lounge Guy’s house. All the pictures now had little hitler moustaches. He also built a church – used for meetings with a real world church.

The month ended – decided to run it for another year. Two people who met in the world wanted to get married, but the groom died before the wedding so they had a virtual funeral.

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